Chapell & Associates

Friday, November 11, 2005

Search Experts: Engines Face Prospect of Privacy Backlash

MediaPost - November 08, 2005
The major search engines are currently considering how to use the reams of demographic and psychographic data they're able to collect, but consumers might push back unless the search engines also address privacy concerns, search industry experts at Ad:Tech in New York said Monday.

The Chapell View
It's good that some have taken note of the search engines using what really boils down to behavioral targeting - using information about users and their past behaviors (in this case, the searches they've conducted) to determine ad placement in search results. In some cases, the search engines have done more than just consider such an idea - MSN, Yahoo! and AOL have all started using such marketing on a small scale recently.

For the most part, these moves have been somewhat under the radar, and there haven't been any major concerns raised over privacy issues. I think that's probably right: my inclination is to see the moves towards behavioral targeting in the search space as both unsurprising and largely benign. There seems little reason to take umbrage over the use of BT - which can be (and often is) good for both marketers and consumers.

That being said, I'm glad the issue of privacy is being discussed in the context of online profiling and search. Search guru John Battelle is quoted as saying "To get to the point where people are giving up this kind of information...we need to be able to see this information" and he's right. One of the concepts we talk about as privacy professionals is the "right of Access" to one's information. While it would no doubt take resources for search engines (and any type of DB marketer, for that matter) to provide individual users with some access to the info that's being collected on them, it might make certain users more willing to allow the search engines to collect that information.

Also, let's keep in mind that there's a cottage industry of what I will refer to as "anti-marketing technologies" which are being developed. "Anti-marketing technology" is probably a poor choice of words, but I am referring to things like spam-blockers, pop-up blockers, and anti-spyware (Adware) software programs. What most of these technologies have in common are their ability to provide the user with control over the operation of certain marketing channels. As this industry grows, so will their ability to determine which marketing technologies and processes are being used on a user's computer. If you were running a search engine, would you want a third party telling your user what you're doing with user search terms, or would you rather do it yourself?
posted by Anonymous on Friday, November 11, 2005

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